Interesting Follow Up on Summa Cum Laude

On Tuesday, February 22, I published a blog post (Junior High End-of-Year & JH Celebration 2010-11) announcing several changes to the end-of-year schedule for Junior High, including details about transitions from “JH Honors Day” to “JH Celebration.” On Tuesday, that post received 831 “hits” or views.

At the time of this writing, the post has received 958 views in total. However, not one viewer has left a comment on the post. (The comment listed is simply a tweet mentioning the post – a “ping back” of sorts.) Not even one viewer commented on agreement with or disdain for the decisions and changes. Over 1300 parents and educators were sent an email with a link to the post. Not one comment. I find that fascinating.

Nevertheless, I have received other forms of communication about the changes to Honors Day – now called Junior High Celebration. Approximately 55 people have communicated with me about the changes:

  • Overall, I would characterize the communications as mostly positive. About 40 contacts have expressed appreciation and agreement with the changes. About 5 contacts sought clarity about how summa cum caude is calculated. About ten contacts have expressed concern. I appreciate that people are using email, phone calls, and face-to-face opportunity to provide feedback. Some communications are more respectful and tactful than others, but I appreciate that people are communicating. Even if I disagree with what they communicate, I appreciate that they are communicating. If people don’t communicate, it is terribly challenging to know what folks are thinking and feeling.
  • Yesterday, however, one parent used the phrase that people are “up in arms” about the changes. This alarmed me and surprised me. I certainly don’t want people to be “up in arms.” What shocked me is that my “recon” tells a very different story.
    • Not one person left a comment on the blog.
    • Of the 55 communications I have received, about 40 have been positive and supportive of the changes.
    • None of the grade chairs have reported any upset or disagreeing parent communications.
    • Only one teacher has reported a conversation with a student who was concerned with the changes.
    • Two PAWS (Parents Association of the Westminster Schools) representatives have communicated to me that people are upset. From what they tell me, though, I feel like there is confusion about the summa cum laude decision.

Consequently, I want to try explaining the summa cum laude decision another way…

  • For as long as I have been at Westminster (16 years), we have designated an Honor Roll and a Merit List. Summa cum laude, in some ways, is simply an extention of this long-standing system.
    • To earn Merit List distinction, a student must maintain a GPA of 80 or higher, with no grade below 75.
    • To earn Honor Roll distinction, a student must maintain a GPA of 88 or higher, with no grade below 75. [During my time, this GPA requirement rose from 87 to 88 with virtually no challenges to the change.]
    • At the end of semester one, 480 students achieved Honor Roll. 56 achieved Merit List. 23 did not receive either distinction. This is a fairly typical spread. However, the change in policy last year to “no zeros” has had a slight effect.
    • During the year of discussions about honors and awards, teachers and parents and students communicated that the Honor Roll does not seem “discerning” enough. Many wanted a “third tier.”
    • To my knowledge, we have never had a strong parent objection to the existence of an Honor Roll/Merit List system based on GPA. There is some faculty concern about the existence of this system.
  • For as long as I have been at Westminster, Junior High Honors Day has recognized just 6 students (one from each grade and gender) for “Highest Academic Average.” In most cases, the difference between receiving this honor and “finishing second” has been caused by just hundredths of a point. And grading practices among teachers are not perfectly uniform. With the summa cum laude system, we can have multiple “valedictorians” from each grade and gender group. Just as with Honor Roll and Merit List, if you earn the grades – through hard work, solid assessment performance, diligent effort – then you are eligible for the distinction. The standard for achievement is clear and visible. It is no longer a behind-the-scenes, head-to-head competition for hundredths of a point. We have ended the sense of “there can only be one.” If we had had the summa cum laude tier last year, about 40 middle school students would have earned the honor.

Below is a simple poll. I hope you will take a few seconds to provide some feedback. [I will blog about the change in departmental awards ASAP.]